Just in case you were wondering, Joe Biden is going to keep on Joe Bidening right up until Nov. 3.
On Saturday, former Vice President Joe Biden appeared with his last boss, former President Barack Obama, for a rally in Flint, Michigan. If you’ve watched any political coverage, you’re probably aware of the importance Michigan holds for the Democrats on Election Day.
Not only do you have its 16 electoral votes but there’s also a Senate race. While incumbent Democratic Sen. Gary Peters has pulled away from GOP challenger John James a bit in the campaign’s last days, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average, his lead has expanded and contracted frequently and the race has been tighter than many would have expected.
Biden’s Michigan lead in the RealClearPolitics polling average has swelled a bit, too; he currently has a 7.0 percentage point advantage. That’s a bit more than Hillary Clinton had in the same average in 2016, but shoring up Michigan is never a bad idea — which is why Biden and Obama were in Flint on Halloween for a drive-in rally.
For the most part, there wasn’t much to talk about. There was one general impression one took away from the rally, however, and one moment that crystallized it: when Biden appeared to miss Obama’s cue to come on stage.
But first, the former president’s speech. Say what you will about Barack Obama, but watching his warm-up act, there’s still the youthful energy that got him elected 12 years ago.
Yes, it was another unwelcome reminder that Obama’s dad humor, never the most palatable aspect of his stump-speech rigmarole, still grates on me nearly four years after he left 1600 Pennsylvania. (“Happy Halloween, everybody. I love your masks,” he said to begin his speech. The nature of the event probably did some favors to Obama on that one, given that we couldn’t take notice of the lack of laughter that line produced.)
Yes, it remains filled with all the empty rhetoric you know and are indifferent to, at best. Biden’s “sense of decency, and empathy, the belief in hard work and family and faith, the belief that everybody counts, that’s who Joe is.” As for Donald Trump, he’s not “treating the presidency as anything more than a reality show to give him the attention that he craves.” (As liberal zingers go, “reality show president” should have been given a lifetime achievement award from the Old Political Speechwriters Guild in late 2019 and then quietly retired.)
And yes, speaking of the Old Political Speechwriters Guild, I think they’ve actually issued a formal denunciation of still using this kind of stale sermonizing about how Biden will “finally make long overdue changes so that our economy actually makes life a little easier for everybody: for the waitress trying to raise a kid on her own, for the student figuring out how to pay for next semester’s classes or the shift worker always on the edge of getting laid off or the cancer survivor who’s worried that her pre-existing conditions protections will be taken away.”
These are the complaints of an Obama curmudgeon, however, and have no bearing on the efficacy of his speech. As for his dad humor, no one brought their kids out to see Don Rickles.
In terms of empty rhetoric, every politician uses it — although I’ll note few of them have been lionized for delivering substance from the podium quite so often as Barack Obama has.
And as for the “waitress trying to raise a kid on her own” part, I’ll merely offer this defense: I searched the transcript of the speech to make sure and discovered, with some happiness, that at least he hadn’t descended to the depths of “Main Street vs. Wall Street.” (Neither did Biden, for that matter.)
Given my views and the fact I’m writing in a conservative publication, I think we can safely assume neither you nor I voted for Obama in 2008. However, watching Obama’s speech, you not only saw the energy that convinced America to vote for him, you saw it primarily intact.
He hit his points and hit them with the kind of energy and exactitude that makes a rote teleprompter address seem like an unrehearsed speech from a Hollywood movie.
All warm-up acts must eventually vacate the stage, however — and as Barack Obama threw things over to the putative man of the hour, his intro fell decidedly flat.
“My friend, the next president of the United States of America: Joe Biden!” Obama said as cars in attendance honked.
The camera panned to the door Biden was supposed to walk out of. Nothing.
“Joe Biden!” Obama said again. Nothing.
A few seconds later, Biden, who had apparently missed his cue, finally walked out.
“Joe Biden!” Obama repeated a third time as Biden made his way to the stage.
Yes, Obama had to call Biden’s name three times before he eventually made it onto the stage. Well, that doesn’t play into any common campaign tropes.
Apparently, neither Biden nor his staff could figure out what his cue was to come out. This is something that’s usually worked out beforehand.
Perhaps there was some sort of technical glitch. If there wasn’t, we’d like to know why Biden apparently missed the cue. Did he not know he was supposed to come out when Obama yelled his name? Were he and his staff just not paying attention, making them oblivious to what was going on outside?
Biden’s speech was again, nothing you haven’t heard before.
Just like Obama, the former veep focused on COVID-19 for much of it, although he made sure to work in some of his own peculiar stump tics, including by using argot from his youth (“We used to have an expression up in Scranton. We’d say when someone wasn’t somebody else’s equal, we’d say, ‘He wasn’t a patch on his jeans.’”), repeating reductionist falsehoods about the ancien régime (“Went through eight years without one single trace of scandal, not one single trace of scandal,” he said, thankfully to a crowd that wouldn’t at least giggle at that assertion), and quadrupling down on the claim that the Trump administration is doing nothing to fight COVID-19. (He called Trump “a president who has waved the white flag of surrender to this virus.”)
Joe Biden appeared to be as energetic as he gets these days, although he seemed a bit like a ’60s rock star who is able to force the screams out of their mouth but can’t make it match the music. And for the record, he was that rock star.
It’s probably worth remembering that Joe Biden was the energetic, youthful face of the Democratic Party when he was elected to the Senate in 1972, the same way Barack Obama was when he was elected 32 years later. Even in 2004, Biden retained a modicum of that boundless energy and was scarcely known to be lacking loquaciousness.
Where has it all gone? The energy in Sunday’s speech felt akin to the energy your Uncle Walter displays in giving the Thanksgiving toast after he drank three Dunkin’ 24-ounce black coffees on the way up because he was afraid of falling asleep during the two-hour drive from Connecticut to New Jersey. One almost misses it this year because so few of us will be having Thanksgiving like we normally would, but we’re also not voting on Uncle Walter for president.
I would never say Obama’s presence would cost Joe Biden votes, but it’s clear this was the tale of two speeches underscored by an awkward transition that revealed an uncomfortable truth about this year’s campaign.
Barack Obama won the presidency because he was to electoral politics what Steve Jobs was to tech or Michael Jordan was to basketball.
As a president, I’d argue his performance was profoundly subpar — not only to conservatives, but also to Democrats, who saw profound political losses at the state and national level during the Obama administration. And then there’s the state of his signature piece of legislation, Obamacare.
But at least Obama, with that political stamina and charm, could mostly overcome the effects of his party’s policies and come out of that period being remembered favorably.
The ossified, gaffe-prone Joe Biden isn’t the kind of guy who can count on that. The same thing could be said for Hillary Clinton, who never seemed quite as outmoded as Joe Biden does — but she still wasn’t any Barack Obama. She also had the millstone of establishment Democrat politics hanging around her neck; not that Joe Biden doesn’t, but few families have as many powerful political entanglements as Bill and Hillary Clinton.
When it comes to Biden’s ability to mess things up, don’t believe me on this. Believe Barack Obama, who Politico reported told another Democrat during the 2020 election cycle, “Don’t underestimate Joe’s ability to f— things up.”
There’s a reason why Obama didn’t come out and support him before the nominee was decided in all but name back in April. (Biden said in April 2019 he had “asked President Obama not to endorse” him during the Democratic primary, according to USA Today. “Whoever wins this nomination should win it on their own merits,” Biden said. I could have made the same request and both would have been as necessary.)
At least Obama never thought he’d be messing things up on the presidential campaign trail when he picked Biden as his veep candidate.
In an August 2019 piece by Glenn Thrush in The New York Times, one of the reasons cited for Obama picking Biden over Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine — who would later become Hillary Clinton’s running mate — is that Biden wasn’t going to be gunning for the Oval Office.
“Mr. Obama, standard-bearer of change but conscious of the racial dynamics of his candidacy, was wary of asking voters to digest too much at once. In Mr. Biden, he found a running mate who would conjure the comforting past and provide experience he did not possess, but would not maneuver for the presidency from the No. 2 slot,” Thrush reported.
“While Mr. Biden exceeded the first two expectations, he never abandoned his aspirations for the top job. He has leveraged his steady vice presidency into a fragile front-runner status in the 2020 primary, at the even more advanced, and politically vulnerable, age of 76.”
“You are the pick of my heart, but Joe is the pick of my head,” Obama reportedly told Kaine when he made that decision 12 years ago.
As Biden finally emerged from that door and made it to the stage after his name was called three times, I wonder if Obama was thinking that Tim Kaine should have been the choice of his head, too.
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